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South America » Colombia » Quindío » Salento
September 19th 2013
Published: September 22nd 2013
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We arrived in Salento late at night following two flights (Cartagena – Bogota, Bogota – Armenia) and a very very fast taxi ride without seatbelts. Salento is a small town of about 4000 people in the coffee growing area of Colombia. Most of the buildings in the town, including our hotel (Ciudad de Segorbe), are built in the traditional paisa style giving it a really quaint look. The town is surrounded by rolling hills and gorgeous scenery which makes it a lovely place to spend a few days.

On the first morning we headed down for breakfast before chatting with one of the lovely guys from our hotel about what we were planning to do while in Salento and getting his recommendations…all in Spanish. The only part of the conversation I didn’t understand, even with his Spanish accent, was when he said “You understand?”…ahh…amusing…

Breakfast was followed by a leisurely stroll around the town which didn’t take very long at all. We then made our way up the 200 steps to the lookout over the town and the mountains beyond. Salento is at approximately 1900m above sea level, which in terms of altitude really isn’t that high but we could still feel it (I think our bodies are used to Melbourne’s 30 or so meters above sea level)! Someone had the fantastic idea of installing swing sets up the top so you could sit and enjoy the view.

We eventually tore ourselves away from the swings (Scott was enjoying posing) and made our way down to the second lookout which looks away from the town over the river and some farms. We then headed back down to the town to get lunch at one of the restaurants recommended by our hotel. For 6000 pesos (approx. 3AUD) you get vegetable soup followed by chicken, chorizo or trout with salad, rice, a mini arepa, veggies and deep fried mashed banana and flour(?) dough things, a banana and an ice tea – fantastic value and really yummy! As we were finishing up our lunch it started raining. We decided to head back to our hotel and wait the rain our while reading books in our room. The rain continued right up until dinner time but fortunately stopped in time for us to head out without getting drenched.

Since the lunch recommendation had been so fantastic we decided to follow our hotels recommendation for dinner as well – a Spanish run restaurant serving a wide variety of cuisines including Indian curries! South American doesn’t seem to be particularly flavoursome, it’s all nice but the flavours just aren’t very strong, particularly in comparison to the Asian dishes we are accustomed to eating. So as we were both craving something with slightly more flavour we opted for the curries served with super garlicy naan which definitely didn’t disappoint – they were delicious.

The following morning after breakfast we set out for the 45minute walk to the coffee farm. The walk was really beautiful (and mostly downhill), the scenery around Salento is so spectacular with the coffee and dairy farms set on rolling hills. We arrived at the coffee farm with time to sit in the hammock for a little while before our tour commenced. The farm we visited was relatively small but produces very high quality beans – they only start harvesting once the trees are 5 years old (they start producing beans from about 2 years) and chop them all down so they can start again once they’re 6 years old. Apparently most of the good coffee is exported from Colombia so they tend to serve and sell the second grade beans within the country. However, the farm we visited keeps about 30% of its highest grade beans to sell on site. Neither Scott nor I drink coffee, but we were brave and managed to finish a whole cup of black coffee each.

After the tour finished we walked back to a tiny town down the mountain from Salento. We then caught the bus up the hill back to Salento before returning to the same restaurant as the day before for another yummy lunch. On the way back to our hotel I found a kitten which I befriended – almost 4 weeks without any cat contact was almost too much to bear! We decided to have another lazy afternoon reading books and eating ice cream in our room before dinner. For dinner headed back to the same restaurant as the previous night (we never do this!) for paella which we had ordered the night before. The restaurant owner had a pet cat which I captured and cuddled until our food arrived. Once again dinner was delicious but we needed to lie down after cause there was so much food!

The following morning we got up bright and early in order to catch the 730am jeep to the starting point for the walk through the Valle de Cocora which was about half an hour from Salento. This 6hour long walk is described as being one of the most beautiful in all of Colombia. There were also a few blogs on the internet which described it as ‘very steep’ and ‘exhausting’, but it was actually fairly easy. The trail was pretty muddy but reasonably well maintained, though the horses which also use the trail seem to cause a fair bit of damage. The trail passes dairy farms before gradually ascending into the ‘cloud forest’. There is the option to do a side trip uphill to the rangers station to get a cup of coffee / hot chocolate / aguapanela con queso (palm sugar, cinnamon and water hot drink served with cheese) / cool drink and see lots of different types of hummingbirds. We amused ourselves for a while trying to take photos of the birds which is quite a challenging task as they move so damn quick! We ended up with a lot of photos, most of them with some kind of bird shaped blur and a few clear ones. After we finished our aguapanela we headed back to the trail and continued our walk. The next section was the toughest part of the trail – a 300m ascent up to the highest point 2950m above sea level. Once you make it to the top the rest of the trail is really easy as it’s downhill on an unsealed road with spectacular views of the ridiculous 60m high wax palm trees. A lot of the palms are on the dairy farms so there are no other trees or shrubs around them, just grass which exaggerates their height and makes them look like massive overachievers.

We made it back to the start point about 5 hours after we left. We had to wait about half an hour before enough people turned up to fill the jeep which would take us back to Salento. Once we arrived back in Salento we had a late lunch at a different restaurant just to mix things up a little (patacones (fried plantain kind of like corn chips) with queso for me and a hamburger for Scott).

That night for dinner we went to another different restaurant and had delicious (massive) burgers with a very generous serve of chips before heading back to our hotel. We had a lovely chat with the guys from the hotel who would have to be amongst the most lovely hotel staff / owners we’ve ever come across before heading to our room to pack up, set our alarm for 4.20am and hop into bed!

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